On-Line Chat, The Good The Bad and The Deadly

On-Line Chat, The Good The Bad and The Deadly
Posted by CN Staff on February 08, 2003 at 10:17:58 PT
By Showwei Chu
Source: Globe and Mail 
Darlene Laurie was front-page news across Canada this week because some friends she has never laid eyes on got together and saved her life.Confined to her home in Burnaby, B.C., by an autoimmune disease, Ms. Laurie was exchanging messages on an Internet chat room she frequents when she suddenly felt ill. About to lose consciousness, she typed 911 on her keyboard.
Alerted by the distress call, the other members -- who knew her only as Hatless Bug -- launched a frantic search for her exact whereabouts. In less than two hours, they had the police at her door and Ms. Laurie on her way to hospital. She had suffered a stroke.The authorities were surprised that strangers as far away as Pennsylvania and Washington would react so strongly. But not Ms. Laurie; she says her on-line friends had already helped her through periods when she was "ready to give up on life."The same can't said for Brandon Vedas, a computer technician in Phoenix, Ariz. As Canadians were feeling warm and fuzzy about Ms. Laurie's happy ending, people south of the border learned in no uncertain terms this week that on-line chat has a darker side.Mr. Vedas died last month after overdosing on alcohol, marijuana and an array of prescription drugs. Only later did his family learn that he did so in front of an audience.Known on line as Ripper and a frequent visitor to The Shroomery, a Web site dedicated to magic mushrooms, Mr. Vedas had invited his chat pals to log on to his site and watch him, via a Web cam, ingest tranquillizers, pot and 151-proof rum. A transcript of the event recovered by his family offered a chilling account of how some of the 13 onlookers egged him on. "That's not much," said Smoke2K, a teenager from rural Oklahoma. "Eat more. I wanna see if you survive.""Ripper," another added, "you should try to pass out in front of the cam."When he finally did just that, there was some debate over how to respond. "I am on line with 911. Is this the right choice?" someone asked. "NO NO NO NO NO," another insisted. To which the person replied, "I talked my way out of it. I didn't give them any info." As a result, his mother didn't look in on Mr. Vedas until the next day.Along with stories of prowling pedophiles and extramarital affairs, the Vedas incident shows that, although largely a harmless way of communicating, chat rooms are open to abuse."Nothing surprises me any more -- the power of on-line relationships shouldn't be underestimated," says Kimberly Young, a psychology professor at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., who also runs an on-line clinic for cyber-addictions. She cites the case of Larry Froistad Jr., who five years ago confessed in a chat room for problem drinkers that he had set a house on fire, killing his five-year-old daughter, Amanda. The message, "I murdered because her mother stood between us," prompted someone to alert the police, and Mr. Froistad now is serving 40 years.But Nancy Baym, who teaches communications at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, says the Internet is like any forum. "If you get a crowd together face to face and someone is drinking near-fatal amounts of alcohol, will his friends say, 'Stop' or 'Slam down another one'? If he slams down one too many and . . . dies of alcohol poisoning, will we say, 'See, face-to-face communications'? No, we'll attribute it to something other than the medium."As Canadian technology analyst and author Rick Broadhead explains, "It's no different from what motivates people who bully kids in school. It's a whole different platform for doing it, and in fact you probably don't feel as bad because you can't see the individual."Of course, even seeing what was happening to Brandon Vedas didn't seem to matter. Showwei Chu writes on technology for The Globe and Mail. Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)Author: Showwei ChuPublished: Saturday, February 8, 2003  Print Edition, Page F4Copyright: 2003 The Globe and Mail CompanyContact: letters globeandmail.caWebsite: Chat Transcripts: Ethan Russo MD
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment